Rhythm & Word Music Therapy is a community-based, creative self-expression programme for at-risk youth (13-18 years) in North Vancouver. Established at the former Keith Lynn Alternate School in 2002, the programme moved to the new Mountainside Secondary School in 2012 that now encompasses all ‘alternate’ programmes in School District #44.
The school district defines this population as follows: “Students who attend alternate education programs are often the most vulnerable population in the school system. Alternate education programs have disproportionate numbers of children and youth in care, Aboriginal students, children and youth living in poverty or the street, gifted children who have difficulty in social situations, children and youth involved in drugs, alcohol and the sex trade, and youth with mental health concerns.”
How does Music Therapy uniquely address the need of clients at Mountainside Secondary?
Rhythm & Word provides opportunities to strengthen students academically, emotionally, and socially by creating a diverse learning environment where people are supported, respected, and challenged. Participants develop and improve fundamental social skills through music such as listening, communication, teamwork, cooperation, leadership, anger management, trust, respect, and positive self-expression. Some years the music therapist has provided vocal lessons for students in the process of gender transformation.
Programmes such as this are needed in the community to ensure that everyone feels welcome, included and valued for who they are and what they can contribute, recognizing that everyone is different, and everyone has value.
How has COVID-19 impacted the program?
Although the program faced no interruption, moving to a completely online platform was challenging to get students engaged because they were used to the in-person format and no longer had easy access to all the instruments and the motivation of having friends with them to go to Music Therapy. To adapt Music Therapist Tatyana joined in on daily staff meetings to brainstorm with teachers and keep in touch with students.
Adopting this program would help support 2 days per week of music therapy at Mountainside Secondary School from January to June 2021. This translates to 8 high school blocks or sessions per week and is helping to sustain the existing programme. This funding is critical to them being able to present this programme during this time period.
Music Therapy is more important than ever in this 2020-21 school year as there are many changes in routine and educational offerings due to COVID impact. The students at Mountainside are vulnerable, with high numbers of mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and difficult life circumstances. Because of these factors it can be difficult to engage the students and help them feel safe and welcome. Usually Mountainside has many “value added services” where community partners work with the school to bring in youth workers and many services to keep students engaged and coming to school. Many of these programs will not be held this year to limit the number of people in the building. The Music Therapy programme has been chosen as a priority service because of the therapeutic content.
“Before I came to Mountainside, where I joined the music therapy program, I was ruthlessly bullied for my gender identity and sexuality. I went to a high school where self expression was quashed, and led to many issues with my mental health, thus diminishing my creative side. As a queer musician, I felt I had no voice and could not speak out about what I was going through because I was scared and alone.
But when I came to Mountainside, I instantly wanted to get started in the music therapy program. For the past year, I’ve been in music therapy almost every day, and it’s changed my life. Having a creative outlet to express myself and my identity has been so freeing. When I walk into music therapy, all my troubles melt away and instead I can immerse myself in the music for an hour or so, which without fail always makes me feel better. Having the space to work on myself, my problems and my insecurities through music is so important to me. Since I started the program, I’ve definitely noticed not only growth as a musician, but boosted self confidence and maturity in all areas, including school. Knowing I have a safe place to be myself has made it easier to come to school, thus improving my grades and my social life. The music therapy program is so much more than just learning instruments and vocals, Because now I have the confidence as a performer and as a person that seemed impossible a mere year ago.”